Pappy Van Winkle – The Price

So let’s talk about the Pappy Van Winkle price.

Pappy Van Winkle is damn good bourbon — but…is it worth what it costs?

Here’s what Walker Percy, great writer and bourbon lover,  had to to say about the relationship between the price of bourbon and its taste — and — umh…”psychological effect” in his essay, “Bourbon Neat.”

Walker Percy on the Price of Bourbon
Walker Percy

“I can hardly tell one Bourbon from another, unless the other is very bad. Some bad Boubons are even more memorable than good ones. For example, I can recall being broke with some friends in Tennessee and deciding to have a party and being able to afford only two-fifths of a $1.75 Bourbon called Two Natural, whose label showed dice coming up 5 and 2. Its taste was memorable. The psychological effect was also notable. After knocking back two or three shots over a period of half an hour, the three male drinkers looked at each other and said in a single voice: ‘Where are the women?’ I have not been able to locate this remarkable Bourbon since.”

Obviously if you’re on a quest for Pappy Van Winkle you’re not looking for the cheap, woman-enhancing  rotgut that Percy is referring to.  So let’s talk about bourbon on a champagne budget.

Pappy Van Winkle Price for 20 Year

Pappy Van Winkle Suggested Retail Price

First, let’s review the suggested retail — which can be had if you get lucky or at least call a few places and get on a waiting list, camp out for days in a liquor store parking lot, or win the Pappy Van Winkle lottery. Then, we’ll discuss the secondary market or the bourbon underbelly. Where instead of appreciating bourbon for what it is, “entrepreneurial types” are trying to make a quick buck on a high-demand commodity.

Hell, it is as old as America — but I still hate those (you) sons of bitches. (Not really, but you sure make it harder for the rest of us — who just want to find and partake of one of the best bourbons around.)

Pappy Van Winkle already costs a pretty penny, but on the secondary market the price is flat out crazy.

Here is a breakdown of the suggested retail price for Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and rye.

  • $39.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year Old 107 proof

  • $54.99 – Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon 12 Year Old

  • $69.99 – Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye Whiskey 13 Year Old

  • $79.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 Year Old

  • $129.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20 Year Old

  • $249.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Year Old

I have purchased both the 12 year and 20 year and laid down $60 something and $136.99 respectively — after adding in tax.

The Pappy Van Winkle Price in the Secondary Market

Here’s a sampling of the price of Pappy Van Winkle on the secondary market. These were found on the (Send me a check for the free ad boys.)

On the site, Pappy Van Winkle 23 year ran from $1,000 to $2,560, Pappy Van Winkle 20 year ranged from  $600 to $2000, and the 15 year was priced from $500 to $800. These are the most sought after of the Van Winkles.

In this case, the 23 year is marked up anywhere from 400% to 1,000%, the 20 from 465% to over 1538%, and the 15 from 750% to 1000%.

Is Pappy Van Winkle Worth 10 Times or More of Its Retail Price?

Just because someone overpays for a commodity like a bourbon, doesn’t mean it’s worth it.  We are definitely in some kind of mania — like tulips or dot coms where people have set aside rationality for a season and bought into the idea that something is worth a lot more than its normal price or value.

However in this case, the bigger fool theory does not hold since most buyers of Pappy are not buying it to get rich later, but to drink it now. Of course, the ones who buy it to resell are causing the already low supply to dry up even more for the “regular” bourbon lover who just wants to taste the so called best bourbon in the world.

Now bourbon lovers with money to burn may not have a problem shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a bottle of Pappy, but I for one would rather spend my time and money on the almost as good bourbons that are findable at their retail price. As good as Pappy Van Winkle is, it is not in a class by itself, untouchable by any other well-made bourbons.

Of course, I might feel differently — and justify the over-the-top purchase if I’d never found it and wanted to know what all the hype was about. So I can’t begrudge anyone who overpays to experience Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon for the first time.

After tasting the 20 year, I can honestly say I hope I score the 15 or 23 this year — but at its “normal” not “overhyped” price.

Pappy Van Winkle Price for 20 Year $136.99

Eventually Everyone Who Wants Some Will Get It

The Pappy that is distilling and aging today will be ready for you to consume in 15, 20 or 23 years — or less — and the craze will likely have died down a bit. Most folks will have moved onto the next big thing — maybe some kind of ice-cream flavored vodka or some other marketing influenced monstrosity — and you can buy all the bourbon, and Pappy Van Winkle you can drink.

As Preston Van Winkle (Pappy’s great grandson) once said “a lot of people don’t realize we just can’t crank up the still and have more 20-year old bourbon…tomorrow. We’re not making vodka.”

All Bourbon and Pappy Van Winkle lovers should be thankful for that.

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What would you be willing to pay for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle?



Bourbon, Straight – Chuck Cowdery

Bourbon, Straight - Chuck CowderyOkay. I am not finished with it yet, but so far Charles K. Cowdery’s book on the history of bourbon, titled “Bourbon, Straight” is, well…can I give it the best compliment ever — interesting. It’s like Bourbon 101 — and it makes bourbon that much better, especially if you like to engage your mind and palate in your pursuits.

Who wouldn’t love a book that starts like this:

“Like sex, alcohol is one of those subjects where much of what people think is wrong.”

And even better the introduction is titled “Of Sex and Shellfish” — and when you get right down to it, what more do you need to survive — Sex, Shellfish and Bourbon! That sort of boils down (pun intended) life’s essentials.

Good Writing on Bourbon

I live on the coast (Savannah) and love oysters, shrimp, crabs and just about every other kind of shellfish. I also love reading and to be honest, it’s how I discovered bourbon and Pappy Van Winkle. If you’ve read other posts on this blog you know already that Walker Percy introduced me to bourbon and Wright Thompson showed me the secret that Pappy was the best bourbon out there.

However, Chuck Cowdery made me love and appreciate this brown spirit, even more. His overview of the history of America’s spirit is a must-read for anyone new to the bourbon game. Or if you’ve always been a bourbon lover, but never run across it be sure and get a copy pronto.

Bourbon Sampling Guide

It’s that good, informative and yes, interesting. Cowdery writes about the roots of bourbon, the basics of whiskey, how the brown stuff really got its name, new charred oak barrels and bottling. But my favorite chapter so far is chapter eight, “An American Whiskey Sampling Guide.” The purpose of the chapter is to “help you sample the output of every American whiskey distillery.”  He notes “such a guide is necessary because most distilleries sell essentially the same whiskey under multiple brand names, so if you buy bourbons at random you might end up tasting the same whiskey over and over, and miss others.”

He gives a value bourbon, a higher-shelf, and a rye (if available) from each of the 14 distilleries he names. That may have changed by now (the book was published in 2004) but it a great place to start if you want to take a journey around the American whiskey universe over the next several months.

I won’t name all the whiskeys he recommends here as you might not buy the book and read it and you need to. But I did discover that I had already sampled many of them.

My Bourbon List

Here are the ones I haven’t tried and look forward to sipping over the next few months.

  • Old Grand-Dad 114 – Beam (Now owned By Suntory)
  • Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond, Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond – Heaven Hill (Private, Family-owned)
  • Russell Reserve’s 10 Year, 101 Proof Rye – Wild Turkey (Now owned by Campari)
  • George Dickel No. 12 (Tennessee Whiskey)  - George Dickel (Now Owned by Diageo)
  • Virginia Gentleman 6 year 90 Proof – A. Smith Bowman (Now Owned by Sazerac)
  • 100 Proof Old Forester – Early Times (Owned By Brown-Forman)
  • Blanton’s – Buffalo Trace (Now owned by Sazerac)

If you’d like to purchase the book from Cowdery’s blog, go here. (And I don’t get a kickback.)

Now let me get back to reading this gem — and sampling a little taste of some more great bourbons.


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Why W.L. Weller Bourbon Is Almost Pappy Van Winkle

Apparently, W. L. Weller distilled Kentucky Straight Bourbon with wheat before anyone else — including Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr. Van Winkle actually worked as a liquor salesman for W.L. Weller and Sons before he and a friend, Alex Farnsley, bought the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, which made bourbon for Weller.

WL Weller 12 - Pappy Van Winkle Alternative

On Derby Day in 1935, Stitzel-Weller opened its doors and began making its wheated bourbon recipe famous. Eventually, the union produced Pappy Van Winkle, one of the most celebrated and hard-to-find bourbons in the world.

Why Weller and Pappy Are Almost the Same
Stitzel-Weller closed in 1992 and today, W. L. Weller 12 and Pappy Van Winkle are both produced at Buffalo Trace’s distillery. Basically, Weller 12 Year Old is made of Pappy that didn’t quite make the cut for Pappy Van Winkle Lot B 12 year. That’s why many say it as close to Pappy as you can get — for a whole lot less.

Why Weller Isn’t Pappy
At first, this may seem like a big deal or that it didn’t taste good enough to be considered Pappy. However, when you realize Pappy Van Winkle chooses the best of the best, you’ll see it can come up a tad short, still be a very good bourbon and become Weller.  The difference between the maturation of one barrel to another can be very slight — if not almost indiscernible — except by a highly trained whiskey palate.

In other words, 12-year-old Weller is almost 12-year-old Pappy Van Winkle, except it is findable and cost muchless than Pappy at around $26 for a 750ml bottle.  On the other hand, Pappy Wan Winkle 12 year old runs about $75 a 750ml bottle off the shelf and more in the secondary market.

Weller and Van Winkle of the Same Bourbon Family
Check out this cool chart to see how certain bourbons are “related.” Notice on the first tree, the Buffalo Trace tree, that WL Weller 12, in a sense, branches off and through further aging becomes Pappy 15 year, 20 year and 23 year.  Not an exact science, but I think it is a great visual for understanding how certain bourbons “grow” into other bourbons through the art and science of aging.

More Kudos for Weller 12
Recently WL Weller 12 also earned Double Gold at one of the most prestigious  spirits competitions in the world, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Only one other $25 bourbon, Larceny, distilled by Heaven Hill, also received the Double Gold.

Other Double-Gold bourbons below $50 included Knob Creek Small Batch ($31), Jim Beam Single Barrel ($35), Soldier Valley Small Batch  ($40), Yellow Rose Double Barrel ($40) and Breaker Small Batch ($49). I’ll talk more about these in future posts.

Black Saddle Small Batch  ($50),  Four Roses Single Barrel ($50), Stagg, Jr. Small Batch ($50) and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($50) also earned Double Gold.

Hill Rock Estate Distillery ($80) and Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel ($85) took Double Gold in the over $50 under $100 price range, while Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year ($120) was the lone Double Gold recipient that cost over $100.

To view all results, check out this link.

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